Erik Buell Racing VP Exclusive Interview: EBR Plans to Conquer Europe with Lower Prices

Gary Pietruszewskim VP of global sales at Erik Buell Racing 1 photo
Photo: Youtube capture
We caught up at EICMA 2014 with Gary Pietruszewski, VP for global sales at Erik Buell Racing (EBR) and he agreed to answer some of our questions. EBR have gotten past the rather hard blow of Harley pulling out of the deal, and we’re now looking at a brand that’s set out to expand and bring back the race track vibe to the street level.
Without much ado, here’s how things went down. Gary almost cheered as we pronounced his name perfectly from the first attempt, and we knew we’re off to a good start.

autoevolution: How does it feel to be back in Europe with EBR?

Gary Pietruszewski: Actually, it’s been very good. We’ve established EBR headquarters outside of Amsterdam (the Netherlands) and we’ve been there for almost a year now. We set up distribution in Germany, Finland, Denmark, the Netherlands, UK, and also… South Africa.

ae: oh, I see, so it’s an all-out war on the European markets for EBR!

GP: Yes, we’d like to get am much distribution as we can. Erik Buell and the history of Erik Buell is well-known here. When he sold bikes with Harley-Davidson he did very well here. We had many fans of the brand here in Europe. So when Erik established EBR motorcycles, one of our first priorities was to set up a dealer network to serve the European market.

ae: So this happened right from the start, when Erik decided not to let go and try to keep on after the separation from Harley? Going back to Europe was his goal?

GP: Yes, in fact we set thing up simultaneously with the US market. When we established the United States distribution base we also set up the European headquarters immediately. We wanted to have both markets launched at the same time.

ae: Well this is so good to hear, because this means we can expect to see a massive presence for EBR in Europe…

GP: Yes, we are expanding, but at a conservative pace. That’s because we want to make sure that the product is right for the market, that the consumers are happy, that we can supply service and parts and we can keep our dealers happy with our distribution.

ae: We, like the rest of the guys have expected to see the 1190RX and the 1190SX here at the EICMA. Putting it bluntly, why haven’t you brought these bikes over?

GP: Hero wanted to have exclusivity in this area. We did a couple of shows in the United States, showing the product and we are planning to roam again in 2015. But the timing to show our 2015 product just didn’t work out right with the EICMA 2014.

We’re in transition mode between the 2014 and 2015 (model year bikes), but the 2015 product was simply not ready to be brought to this show. However, here at the booth we have our Superbike motorcycle, plus some products EBR designed for Hero. There’s a 250, the Hasthur and a scooter. So basically, three of our products we do with our consulting group are actually EBR products designed for Hero.

If you’re not familiar with the EBR and Hero story, here is what happened. In late 2009, Erik Buell founded EBR, and subsequently sold an under-50% stake to Indian Hero MotoCorp for $25 mil (€20 mil). The tie-up in mid-2013 provided EBR with money to finance the development of new bikes and upgrade the dealer network, while Hero would benefit from technology and consulting.

ae: Things brings us to one of the big questions. How is it working out with Hero?

GP: Actually, things are very good. Our EBR business is set up in 4 divisions: we have EBR motorcycles, and then there’s Hero distribution which will be established in 2015. We have our consulting group, we do a lot of work for Hero developing and designing, engineering products, and we have a race team of which Hero is the primary sponsor. So the alliance with Hero is very, very close.

ae: It looks like Hero has a lot to earn from tis tie-up. What’s on your side, besides money?

GP: This works both ways. We can supply engineering and design help for Hero, we can help them with distribution in the United States and joined our efforts for distribution in Europe, to establish the Hero name.

ae: Are you planning to expand your dealership network to Asia as well?

GP: We have plans to have more dealers in Europe first, especially in Eastern Europe, and in the Asia region. This will be happening in the first six months of 2015; we’re looking for good candidates that handle all the brands and which would carry the EBR line-up.

ae: Here’s another tough one, the same question I’ve been asking someone at BMW. Do you have any plans, or are you at least considering approaching new riders? I mean, people who are either not allowed by the law or who are afraid to ride a 200 horsepower motorcycle.

GP: This is a great point, because when you get into the high-horsepower or high-cc levels, it limits the amount of riders you can attract. But we see the market and we see the trends in both the United States and in Europe of the lower-ccs. The lower-middleweight and small-displacement, such as 250, 200 and even 125cc are becoming more and more popular. In India, the scooter market is growing rapidly and we do envision an entry-point, low-cc, low-price bike for the coming years.

Unfortunately, the middleweight (600cc) segment is in decline, and at the moment, this category is not one of the roads we consider taking.

ae: How much EBR is in the Hero XH250R?

GP: I don’t have an exact percentage, but let’s just say it’s… substantial.

ae: So, could we say that the HX250R is a small-displacement EBR bike marketed as a Hero?

GP: Correct, correct! And possibly there’s also an opportunity to make derivatives of that bike, maybe one as a Hero and one as an EBR. For the 250, maybe we will build a streetfighter and a more Superbike-type. Maybe we will even build a cruiser bike, and that could be a Hero… or an EBR. It’s going to depend on the market to determine which brand is better positioned.

ae: it’s really neat seeing that this first new bike, the HX250R has an edge over the competition, at least as far as power is concerned. It’s more powerful than both Honda’s CBR250R and the quarter-liter Ninja. You’re already dishing out a bike that’s really appealing to the new rider, do you see this as a main asset for EBR in the future?

GP: Yes, I think the HX250R is going to be one of our bestsellers. It will be priced extremely, extremely aggressively, well below the Honda, Kawasaki and now, the Yamaha R3.

ae: Well, these bikes aren’t exactly cheap! Are they going to eat their own hearts out when you will reveal the price? Will there be any nail biting over at their headquarters?

GP: I hope so, because we don’t want people to look at it and say “oh, it’s only a couple of hundred dollars cheaper”. It will be priced well below and have a better warranty than the Yamaha, Kawasaki and Honda.

ae: This sounds really bold, you do trust your new bike a lot!

GP: We made efforts all along the production chain and design. We wanted to come in and offer a new rider a bike with good performance, fun to ride, with attractive looks yet still at a very nice price.

ae: Back to the 1190, it looks like everybody is quite fond of upping their displacement. Aprilia Ducati, KTM are all offering bigger engines. Are going to follow into this trend?

GP: Not in the near term. We are a small company, we are very, very satisfied with the 1190 platform, the performance it gets. We think as you go up in horsepower you’re really not going to gain that many sales versus the investment, at least not for a small company like us. We’d rather take our assets and pot them on the smaller and middleweight bikes.

ae: Do you have some details on the 2015 1190 machine that you’re allowed to share with us?

GP: Obviously, the looks will change, with new colors. We tweaked the engineering a bit, too, based on customer feedback, such as the clutch pull, which was changed. There will be an option for a quickshifter, too.

ae: So how about the new fad, electronic semi-active suspensions?

GP: Not for us right now. We’ve got a traction control system with 20 settings, 21 if you also count turning it off and that seems to work in almost any condition. Riders can almost tune the bike because they can choose between so much more than Dry or Wet. They can adjust the TCS based on how dry or how wet the road is, and their own riding style, and they see to enjoy that quite a bit.

ae: Can users save their preferences?

GP: No, we’re not yet there. It’s basically about allowing each rider, when they get on the bike to choose what’s best for them, depending on weight, riding style and so on.

ae: Lately, we’ve been rather good at guessing. When we learned that KTM was about to dish out a bike called 1050 Adventure, we just said “well, here comes a road-focused Adventure with cast wheels”. Are we making the right guess for the upcoming EBR 1190AX?

GP: The AX is still in our product plans, we haven’t gotten to that point yet, but it’s going to be designed as a combination of street and some off-road riding.

ae: So we guessed right, again!

GP: Yes, haha, congratulations!

ae: Is there any certainty related to the 1190AX, as in where it will arrive?

GP: No, but it won’t be in 2015. It’s in our plans after that, but we don’t have any exact date for it. So far the focus is on middleweights and the low-cc.

ae: Could you tell our readers why they should go EBR next year?

GP: First of all I’d like to thank all the people for their support, coming up to the dealerships and meeting us at the shows. They voiced their opinion and welcomed Erik back into the market and I think when you choose an EBR it’s almost like you choose a selective bike. You’re not one of the masses, you’re special and you’re making a statement about how you want to ride, the essence of a motorcycle and the very history of Erik Buell.

ae: This of course brings us to actually getting one. The new generation of EBR bikes is selling in the US for a much more attractive price than what Buells used to go for. How’s it going to be for Europe?

GP: Right from the start we looked at a price point for Europe, and the good news is that we’re adjusting it… downwards. We know it’s possible to bring the price down a couple of thousands Euro, thus attracting more buyers and be more competitive with Ducati.

ae: Nice to hear about that, where would this end?

GP: 15,000 Euros. Based on the market, we might go 15.5k, maybe 16k. Each country has its own particularities, but this is the ballpark.

ae: Who’s the manufacturer you’d like to bat at their own game?

GP: I want to beat all of them! (laughs) The European market is very important for us; if we want to be a global player, we definitely have to be big in Europe. We’re going to do everything we can to make that happen: marketing, dealers, distribution.

ae: Are you afraid to pit your top sportsbike against the old European stars, such as the BMW S1000RR, Ducati 1199 Panigale, Aprilia RSV4?

GP: No, we’d in fact like to line them up and compare them, see which one is better. Put them on the street, let the rider do the judging. It’s a true sport bike with 185 horsepower, a tremendous amount of torque, not a beginner bike. Erik Buell designed it for aggressive, sporty riding, and you’re going to feel that. When you get on the bike you’re going to feel the power and the pull.

ae: You know that the day the first 1190RX leaves the dealer, someone WILL get it on the German autobahn and race it against the rest, don’t you? There will be some “show ‘em who’s the boss” action on youtube.

GP: Haha, yes, we know and we welcome that. Go ahead and do it! At EBR, those owning the company and building the bikes are also riding them. Erik Buell takes them out and rides them personally. We do everything in-house. We have our own engine assembly line, we build our own engines and we have all the production in Wisconsin.

ae: How about suspensions, again. Are you planning to equip your bikes with the top-notch Ohlins hardware and the like?

GP: We had this in the past and you might see this moving back to that as an option, but we’re trying to be performant and price-competitive. If we can offer almost the same performance for a lower price, that’s good for us also. Anyway, we’re testing everything on the race track, and we are confident: everything is going to give top performance.

We know that there are a lot of new riders out there who are just dying to throw a leg over a true sporty bike with both A2 compliance and neat specs. They can follow the link for more on the EBR-designed Hero HX250R, plus some live photos at EICMA 2014. We are so looking forward to see the final price tag. If everything Pietruszewski told us is true, then we're in for quite some stir in the small-displacement segment.
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